Upton Virtual Studios: 30-31 May, 2020

2020 is proving a difficult year for everyone! For artists such as me, with art galleries closed and arts events cancelled because of the covid-19 pandemic, there has been a huge effect on the showing and selling of art work.

Susan Isaac - studioOne thing you can see is my virtual open studio created as part of Open Studios Notts 2020. This takes place every May and early June but all of the physical events were cancelled. However, the Open Studios Notts team promoted a series of virtual events instead. For the Upton Studios, which we had planned for the weekend of 30-31 May, each of the three host artists (including myself) created video guides to their studios. We also commissioned a short animated trail guide by Beth Adams and were interviewed about our work by Evie Hoggard, of Radio Newark. Continue reading

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Painting in the Orchard

I have been neglecting this blog for too long, partly preoccupied with other things and partly using other media (particularly my instagram feed). However, I like the calmer feel of  blog and I shall endeavour to do more again.

With the Coronavirus lockdown in place this last few weeks I have found myself spending a lot of time painting outside, very lucky to have access to an old orchard and neighbouring fields. I’m also fortunate to have my family around me – my eldest daughter Elsa (heavily pregnant and with time on her hands for the moment) made this short video of me painting in the orchard on monday (observed by her sister, Mair). I hope it gives some idea of the process of creating a small en plein air study (in acrylic on a 9″x12″ canvas) in preparation for a fuller painting. The snippets of birdsong were captured whilst I was working – now that the surrounding roads are almost empty, the sound of these creatures is suddenly exquisitely clear.

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Paint Out Norfolk 2019

This is my account of Paint Out Norfolk (Sainsbury Centre) 2019, which ran from 1-5 July, with the exhibition private view and prize giving held on 5 July, and the exhibition running from 6-7 July, 2019.

Monday (1 July) – Norwich

My first painting for Paint Out Norfolk 2019 was completed at the opening session in Norwich on Monday evening – looking across the River Wensum beside Bishop Bridge towards the spire of Norwich Cathedral (with the Red Lion pub close by on Bishopgate).

I had driven down through the afternoon from my home near Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire to join this first session. Having got lost a few times en route, and then needing to check in with my landlady, I arrived a little late and a little flustered to join a becalmed sea of painters.  I settled myself after a while, conscious that time would be short. All too soon the other artists were packing away to adjourn to a nearby pub, there to eat, relax and catch up. Paint Out founder James Colman now appeared at my shoulder and, probably recognising my look of worry, suggested working for another half hour and then calling it a day. With everyone gone I gathered my thoughts, made a few quick decisions and put down some strategic marks to complete the painting. Continue reading

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Smaller Pieces

I have been working on some smaller compositions this Autumn. Compressing my method of work has been a challenging but useful process for making spontaneous plein air works. Some of these smaller pieces will be at my open studio this Sunday 18 Nov and others are part of the ‘The Great Little Picture Show’ at the Dovecot Gallery in Styrrup from 17 November to 16 December.

These three paintings of Lincoln are all in oil, painted on board measuring 12″ (30cm) square and are in the Dovecot Gallery:

These views of Upton and Newark and the still life will be in my open studio on Sunday:

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Paint Out Norwich 2018 – Days 3, 4 & 5

Mon 15 Oct – Anglia Square

This day’s theme was ‘modernising’ and, after being thoroughly spoiled with the Medieval beauty of the city in the days before, I was curious to see this somewhat controversial area of Norwich – a Neo Brutalist 1970s development anxiously awaiting yet another makeover.

Susan Isaac - under the flyover Anglia Square On the southern edge of the Square, a flyover had been flung over a nearby neighbourhood of homes and shops, some of which had the hallmarks of a pre-industrial era. Here, where the prettiness of the city had dwindled, the margins with makeshift car parks (the ‘spaces in between’) give a sense of being off limits. I was glad to see a couple of PON18 Instagram 15-10-2018other painters soon joining me, making use of the flyover to keep out of the rain. Looking across Magdalen Street, there was a welcome simplicity to the available elements here, after the abundance of historical information elsewhere. What was left of the human-sized vernacular houses were oddly juxtaposed with the monumental brutality of the concrete flyover underside and the rough gravel beneath it. Continue reading

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Paint Out Norwich 2018 – Day 2

Our theme for the Sunday (14 Oct) sessions of Paint Out Norwich was the Medieval townscape, for which Norwich is renowned – we were directed to the Cathedral area and Elm Hill for the day.

Morning Session – I found it impossible to ignore the dominant shape of the Cathedral spire, although it presented a compositional dilemma, especially close in with its lone form standing against the sky. However I was keen to work at close quarters to give a sense of the houses jostling around this imposing building.

Susan Isaac - Cathedral from Lower Close (Sun 14-10-18 morning)The light was quite even and flat with no distracting shadows to chase, and I chose a spot on the Green, to the south of the Cathedral. Using a stretched rectangular format, reflecting the shapes I was portraying, I planned a grouping of strong vertical structures. In the foreground, a lamp post stood out against the pale masonry of a handsome Georgian house. The edge of the house, with its garden wall, gabled roofline and chimney stack, supported the vertical theme, following through to the Cathedral tower and steeple itself.

My proximity to the buildings allowed me to explore the variety of make up and materials – house walls a checkerboard of warm stone matched with blue/grey flint, bordered by red brick quoins. A similar yellow stone had been used in the construction of the Cathedral. To emphasize its importance and pull it forward, I left the background to the spire as a simple flat orange area. I also wanted this bright colour to echo the way in which the brickwork details of the house had been used to demarcate its masonry. Although not naturalistic, I was interested to see if this more post impressionistic use of colours would help to give cohesion to the painting.

Afternoon Session – During the rather rainy afternoon a number of us broke off from our own work to observe how the artist and teacher Tony Robinson (Founder of ‘Art in the Open’, Wexford, Eire), would  handle a plein air composition under testing conditions.  With professional determination, he set to and produced a painting with subtle tonal observations, drawing on a street scene in which the unintended circumstances of water on the road were turned to his advantage and created opportunities for mirroring the flow of life and lights that washed over  them. Eschewing offers of an umbrella he worked against a growing body of precipitation, until he could do so no more, as the paint would no longer stick. It was heartening to see, and we all resolved to avoid the rain if at all possible!

Nocturne Session – Later in the day, in the growing twilight and with the threat of rain, I made my way to the upper side of the Cathedral Close, onto a quiet road leading towards the River Wensom. I set my easel and, making use of the familiar upright Susan Isaac - Norwich Cathedral at Night (Sun 14-10-18 Nocturne)format of the morning’s painting, began to work out my main shapes. In spite of the dark, the steeple was still prominent, although this time accompanied to its left, and nearly matched in scale, by a tall house with crow-stepped gable. These large abstract shapes were what drew me to this composition encouraging me to use bold brushwork rather than being distracted by detail.

The distinctive stepping of the house gable cut diagonally through the view of the Cathedral tower – its near-black edge contrasting strikingly with the illuminated faces of the spire and tower. Crockets spotted brightly along the shaft of the spire and drew the attention of the viewer to the background of the composition. This strongly lit area was highlighted further by shadows to the right – a very dark area that extended downward and helped to define some of the more muted foreground shapes. In the foreground, I roughly rendered the house and outbuildings with toned-down colours and marks to give some indication of building materials.

As well as the low level of lighting, increasing wind and rain became quite challenging through the evening. The small umbrella I had attached to my easel at the outset was more often turned inside out and at a certain point I could no longer convince fresh oil paint to adhere to the support. Eventually, I felt I had put down enough paint to loosely describe the scene. Packing up in these conditions requires an extra degree of meditative organization, to avoid accidental damage to the painted surface of the finished work.

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Paint Out Norwich 2018 – Day 1

With the Paint Out Norwich competition concluded I’ve spent a couple of days recovering before typing up my hand-written notes. I wanted to say a little about some of my  paintings and thought I would do some short blog pieces about the experience. I should say that the exhibition of all the artists work continues at The Norwich Cathedral Hostry (as part of the Hostry Festival) to 28 October. You can also watch a short That’s TV Norfolk video that gives a sense of what the Paint Out event is all about and there is a news report on the event from the Norwich Evening News.

Susan Isaac - Norwich Guildhall from the Market (Sat 13-10-18 morning)This was my second year at the PON event and, building on previous experience, I looked forward to stepping into the rhythm of the event and enjoying the company of my fellow painters. The week feels a little surreal, coming fresh from the Nottinghamshire countryside into a city that is still quite new to me – full of contrasting building styles, with exquisite Medieval buildings neighboured by Georgian, Victorian and later forms in turn sometimes contrasted by modern retail temples.

Morning Session – The weather on Saturday morning started fine and, our theme for the day being ‘the Market and People’, I was drawn to an area above the market place which had the spacious Art Deco feel of a lido – maritime railings, sweeps of steps and marching columns topped by lanterns. I set up at the head of an expanse of railings, enjoying the dynamic elongated viewpoint that led towards a doorway at the base of the adjacent Guildhall, the line of sight leading up through the facade of the tower.  To emphasise the elements of this perpendicular composition, I elected to paint on an elongated rectangular support.

Having chosen the basic structural features, I needed to define other details of interest. The sun was still strong and throwing shady striations over the walkways. In addition, neat rectangles of box hedge, like bales of hay made golden by the warm light, evenly divided the floor space, helping the sense of perspective. I was also drawn to harlequin-like markings over the Guildhall building, but wanted to avoid overplaying this supporting area of the composition, and chose simply to allude to the windows and other architectural divisions. Finally, as the morning matured, a growing number of people gathered to meet up, rest or read a while, their living forms flowing through the linear constructions.

Afternoon Session – For the second Saturday session, some of us chose to be taxied out of the city to Carrow Abbey, close to the grounds of the Coleman Factory. We were entertained in the  sixteenth-century hall of this stunning mansion, with a background talk from the site manager and then given free rein to explore the site, inside and out.

Tudor chimney stacks, diamond brick patterning, mullioned windows and an exciting array of roof lines, bay windows and porches, offered all manner of possible imagery. After some time spent meandering around the house, I eventually settled on a composition that interested me without being too overwhelming. Turning away from the house itself, I set up in the gardens, alongside a section of the earlier priory ruins.

Susan Isaac - Colmans from Carrow Abbey Norwich (13-10-18 afternoon)My view was bordered on one side by the weathered remains of a flint and mortar wall, forming part of the garden boundary. A footpath to the left, also helped to lead the eye in to the picture plane and at the juncture of both arose the distant chimney of the Coleman factory. This industrial emblem in brick, encircled by iron bracing, could almost have stood in for a long-lost priory steeple. As well as masonry textures I enjoyed trying to convey some sense of the individual plants in the grounds. A mass of mature trees crowded around and shielded the factory, whilst closer in, I tried to define some of the garden foliage as well as a large weeping beech, going through its autumnal transformation.  In the foreground a shrub, pruned in preparation for the oncoming winter, is also described, chosen because its truncated shoots seem to echo the form of the chimney.

After a couple of tranquil hours, the paintings had been completed and we were all too soon whisked back into the city for our final task of the day.

Nocturne Session – I arrived at my chosen nocturne location at the base of the steps to one side of the church of St Peter Mancroft.  For me, this area not only has exciting graphic possibilities in daylight but at night it really transforms – its essential components come to a different life. With pared down forms and colour restricted almost to tone, this felt  a perfect set up for the limited two hour painting time we were allotted. To the left, the church tower itself rises up, although its darkening form has all but lost its distinction at this time. Thanks to the vibrancy of the lone street lamp in my field of vision, the north transept and its large traceried Gothic window has instead stepped forward and been gilded in sodium illumination.

Susan Isaac - St Peter Mancroft (Sat 13-10-18 Nocturne)Against this lit area stand dramatic silhouettes of the iron black railings and lamp post, with the railings advancing out of the painting towards the viewer. These bold linear uprights stand in contrast to the solid bank of stone steps rising out of the foreground, the harshly lit treads creating a series of shadows in the form of receding horizontal bars. I wanted to use these to help a sense of perspective and to lead back up into the picture plane. Both steps and railings are funnelled in through a set of gateposts and on to a tree lined avenue, with a beckoning hint of light at its ending. This very dark, seemingly empty upper quadrant of the painting contrasts strongly in its tone with the adjacent light masonry. Within this near void, barely visible contorting trunks are defined in a dulled orange light, their fractious branches now lost against a darkening sky.

I was pleased with the theatrical effect of this composition and the slight sense of foreboding and mystery. It also made me think of an emptied auditorium, its proscenium lights inverted and cast upon the emptied raked seating, following the days performance. At the end of two hours I felt reasonably happy to down tools and pack away my paraphernalia for the day.

[As a footnote – at the conclusion of the event I was delighted to find myself winner of  the Paint Out Norwich 2018 Nocturne category]



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Paint Out Norwich 2018

I am taking part in the ‘Paint Out Norwich 2018en plein air painting competition along with 35 other artists. We started on Saturday (13 Oct) with three sessions (morning, afternoon and nocturne) on each of Saturday & Sunday and continuing with 2 sessions a day into Wednesday, 17 Oct. Each day is themed – ‘Market & People’ Saturday ‘Medieval’ Sunday, ‘Modernising’ Monday, ‘Museums & Education’ Tuesday, with a kind of free-for-all Wednesday.  Then there is an exhibition of the artists paintings in the Norwich Cathedral Hostry that runs to 28 Oct as part of the Hostry Festival. This follows a private view and awards event on Wednesday evening, so if you are in Norwich at all in that time you will be able to see the wide range of work that we are all producing.

There are also a series of workshops and talks that we can attend. Its really quite exhausting and I’m just taking a break to post this before heading off to the evenings events.

The two works here are of Norwich Cathedral, completed in the Sunday morning and nocturne sessions – the morning view is from the south of the cathedral (from the Lower Close) and the nocturne view is looking from the north-east.


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Usk Castle

I spent some time in the Welsh borderlands at the end of January, en route to a family visit in South Wales, place of my youth. Wye valley is a landscape full of mystery and enchantment. On this occasion I made a stop at the pensively beautiful ruin of Usk Castle, evocative of Gothic tales and faerie legends. But all along this stretch of countryside, where the land begins to heave and roll, rimmed as it is with the remains of embattled and portentous buildings, are places wonderfully encouraging for the imagination.

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Staithes Beck from North Side

Susan Isaac - Staithes Beck from North SideCompositionally here, in this final Staithes view, my primary interest was in the dynamic procession of post and rail, springing diagonally from the foreground and branching off in the distance of the painting. The starkness I found came in part from working contre-jour, with the glowering sky and simultaneously presaged rain contrasting with the possibility of brightness from behind a break in the cloud, all enhancing a curious tonal atmosphere. I enjoyed too finding texture and interest in the mundane, particularly with the tamped concrete road surface.

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